Penelope in Reverse (#567)

In the Odyssey, Homer’s epic poem of the adventures of Odysseus on his way home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, his wife Penelope keeps off the mob of suitors who are vying for her hand by telling them that she will choose one of them to wed once she finishes weaving a shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes. At night—until the suitors discover her strategem—she unravels what she has woven, and starts again on the morrow with an empty loom.
Almost a year ago last February I wrote about Penelope’s daily weaving and nightly unweaving as a metaphor for my own daily writing here about Charlie on Autismland. This evening, it occurred to me that I had gotten the metaphor backwards: That it is not that I, like Penelope, choose colored threads and work them into a design on the loom of the day, only to take the whole thing apart the very next day. My posts here are rather weaving done at night (as has been remarked, yes, I do not sleep much) and all through the next day, I wonder how the hero of my story (a certain 9 1/2 year old boy) is going to unravel another night of work.

Do you ever worry that writing—telling—bragging—about the “great day!” your child had is going to jinx you, and her or him? I know it smacks of superstition, but I still feel a tug inside me when I do: After I hit “save” and the post is published I wonder, what will happen tomorrow? Will the “great day!” of yesterday become a phone call with Charlie’s school’s phone number on my caller ID, after which I am calling Jim, Charlie’s home coordinator, and trying to understand how such unraveling could have happened?

In case you were wondering, it did not happen today; it has not been happening in several months, since Charlie became fully settled in his no longer “new” school. He has continued to do six hours of ABA at home (and one speech session), to reinforce all of his learning. Charlie started doing ABA when he was just over two years and some months old back in the fall of 1999; he did regular sessions throughout the week until he was seven years old—-which is to say, right before his academic learning (which had always been up and down) came to a near-complete halt and “challenging/difficult” behaviors (SIBs in particular) became a regular component of my vocabulary. It was because of the SIBs that we started Charlie on Risperdal in March of 2004 and went back to the Lovaas Agency in July of 2005 (right around the time I started blogging about Charlie).

We have had a number of ABA consultants and, if I may say so, not all are created equal. (One informed us that he was a “benign dictator,” under which statement our team of college-age female therapists chafed, to say the least.) We have done “traditional ABA” and DTT, VB, NET; read and learned about RDI and Floortime/DIR and all the other alphabet soup of treatments and therapies parents find themselves becoming quick students of. Structure, of a very straightforward kind, works for Charlie, we have discerned—-and so do regular doses of fun, games and laughs, and our coordinator has carefully infused much of both into Charlie’s home ABA.

We had a team meeting this afternoon. I had packed up Charlie’s logbook and program materials in advance and planned out how to spend the time from him getting off the bus until we drove to the Lovaas office. Charlie, after dose #1 of melatonin, was groggy this morning, but not more than usual and alternated smiles and a set face (pond-size puddles—it was pouring—in the driveway did not help). “Chocklat!” he demanded as soon as he got off the bus. He ate a pack of soy pudding rather grimly, went to our bed, cried a little, practiced piano and started smiling and jumping up and down when I said we were going to the meeting.

We were on our way when my cell phone rang: I had thought the meeting was at the time it was last month, 5-6pm—-and it had started at 4pm. (I had been notified of this, but my eyes had slipped too quickly over the email.)

Charlie, who had been grinning and looking out the window, let out a yelp of fear. “Go see!” he called out, the anxiety rising in his voice.

“We’re coming anyways, I said,” noting that it was 4.45pm. “We’ll just go and say hi to everyone.”

I drove with a nervous—unraveling—boy in the backseat. Charlie grinned again when we parked across the street from the office and as he raced up the steps. I sat down with an embarrassed sigh as Charlie received accolades for his buzzcut and called out his lead therapist’s name—-only, she is (as of the meeting we had all but missed) no longer our lead, but now our new coordinator (whom we are lucky to have; she has many years of experience as a teacher of autistic students of Charlie’s age); a new therapist has also started working with Charlie. They had been talking about Charies program and making plans for new skills to work on—-when we started Charlie in home ABA again a year and a half ago, the main talk at our meetings was behavior, behavior, behavior.

Charlie insisted on standing by his “new” coordinator’s car to see if she would come out; after five minutes, I coaxed him to the black car and “home house.” As we got back onto the highway, I kept thinking about the many wanderings—-the curious monsters we had met—the gradual steps we had slogged through to get to where we are. So does Odysseus, on leaving Troy, come within sight of Ithaca, only to be blown back far off when one of his men opens the bag of winds the god Aeolus gives him. Already he has encountered the man-eating Cyclops and the Lotos Eaters; afterwards he meets the enchantress Circe who turns his men into pigs, then journeys to the Dead, encounters the Sirens and the double peril of Scylla and Charybdis, all before washing up with nothing on his person or to his possession on the island of Scheria. And though the king sends him off with a ship and many treasures, Odysseus must go through yet another series of trials to get back home to Ithaca and to Penelope: He disguises himself as a beggar, secretly enters his own palace, slays the suitors with the aide of his son Telemachus, and—before Penelope acknowledges him—has still to tell her the answer to a secret known only to them.

(That Penelope is one crafty weaver.)

Charlie’s odyssey today came to a quiet close: At 7.45pm, he gathered his balls and a plush snowman and went to sit on his bed. I gave him his dose #2 of Melatonin at 8pm. He warbled and bounced as I read to him from some very short books, and then, right elbow bent under his head (as I am sure it was when he was in utero—Charlie was born with one leg twisted over the other like a pretzel and often curls himself into a literal fetal position when he is very tired), he looked right at me and said “Goo’ night.” Charlie was asleep fifteen minutes later.

Heroes, especially when they have been on a journey of the scope and scale of Odysseus, need their rest.

3 Responses to “Penelope in Reverse (#567)”
  1. MommyGuilt says:

    Such an amazing analogy! Never would have thought to compare a day in the life of the spectrum to Odysseus and Penelope, but it makes perfect sense.
    Oh, I’m halfway through “George & Sam.” Incredible.

  2. Marcie says:

    I was wondering if you’ve tried a weighted blanket to help Charlie sleep. It’s helped lots for me.

  3. Have not tried that but Charlie does sleep wrapped in a huge fleece blanket (made for a king-size bed).
    Let us know what you think of George and Sam!

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